You Don’t Need to Be Nomadic to Be Focused

Derek Sivers writes that he’s giving up on maintaing a home base and giving up on maintaining physically proximate friends, events, activities. Instead, he’s directing his energies “globally” (i.e., on the web) and becoming a permanent traveler:

I lived in Portland, Oregon for 3 years. I worked every waking hour, growing CD Baby and Hostbaby. It was incredibly productive. I made some dear and deep friends worldwide, but none in Portland. I never hung out in Portland. My attention was still focused outward.

Then two years ago, when I moved to Singapore, I decided to do the opposite. I wanted to get to know my local community. I met with over 400 people, one-on-one, went to every conference and get-together, and said yes to every request. I spent most of the last two years just talking with people. And I really got to know the Singapore community.

But something never felt right. After a day of talking, I was often exhausted and unfulfilled. Two hours spent being useful to one person who wants to “pick my brain” is two hours I’d rather spend making something that could be useful to the whole world (including that one person).

Then people around the world email to ask why I’ve been so silent. No new articles. No progress on my companies. Nothing.

So there’s the trade-off. By being so local-focused, I’m not being as useful as I was when I was making things online.

So I’m finally admitting : I’m not local.

I moved around so much that I’m not from anywhere. I feel equally connected to London, Los Angeles, New York, New Zealand, Singapore, San Francisco, Iceland, and India. I care about people in all of those places. They’re all equally home. Just because I live in one now, doesn’t mean I should ignore the others.

To me, the emphasis on local stuff never felt right. When I was in Woodstock and Portland, people would ask what I was doing to promote the local music scene there. I’d argue that I shouldn’t favor Woodstock or Portland any more than Wellington or Prague.

For me, for now, I’m going to stop doing in-person meetings, and turn my attention fully to writingprogramming, and recording things that can benefit anyone anywhere.

I get what Derek is saying in terms of reaching a larger global audience. I understand his view that hard focus with minimal distraction is important. But better to think of hard focus and serendipity as spigots that can be turned off and on at different times, not as ideas that determine whether you have a “home” or are a nomad.

You can live close to friends or family, in a big city, and still say no to things and not go to conferences every day. You can be cosmopolitan in identity and in your moral calculus and yet still invest in real life, stable relationships in one or two or three key locales.

Sure, being a permanent traveler will grant you more time than ever to focus on key projects and publish them to your global audience. But no permanent traveler I’ve met is actually happy. Most are lonely. Most have a hard time building a meaningful career. I wrote about this in detail a few year ago in my post on Urban Nomadicism.

Derek says he’s going to abolish in-person meetings. I can’t think of a more likely path to unhappiness than abolishing regular in-person interaction with friends/family/colleagues.

I have a long respected Derek’s writings and thinking. So I look forward to seeing how this new lifestyle plays out.

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

15 Responses to You Don’t Need to Be Nomadic to Be Focused

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    Not meeting people in person sounds like hell to me. But that’s because I’m a natural extrovert, and draw energy from face-to-face interaction.

    If Derek loses energy from face-to-face interactions, his decision makes a lot of sense. What feels right for one of us doesn’t necessarily feel right for others.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    Agreed, but an introvert’s desire to spend more time alone seems less extreme than abolishing all in-person meetings.

  3. If Derek loses energy from face-to-face interactions, his decision makes a lot of sense. What feels right for one of us doesn’t necessarily feel right for others.

  4. Can’t see why it should be an either/or proposition. Has this guy read Kierkegaard’s Either/Or? “You can be oblivious to everything going on around you or you can get involved. An individual can go too far in these realms and lose sight of himself.”

    Sounds like he’s going down David Foster Wallace’s path to self-destruction and has already lost sight of himself. I won’t be surprised to read Derek Sivers’ his obituary within the year.

  5. Ben,
    I actually left the comment below on Derek’s site before you wrote this blog post. I have been following him for years as I enjoy the information he shares.

    Comment:
    “I’m not sure about your premise of being either “Local or Global”. As a Tlingit, a large part of our identity is “where we are from and were our family is from”. We considered ourselves “place-based” people. Part of being location-based probably has a lot to do with community. However, as Tlingits we also have an established relationship with our environment as well.

    We’re definitely more mobile as people than we were a few hundred years ago but is this better?

    Ben Casnocha recently talked about how “the loneliness he sees deep in the eyes of people who declare themselves “nomadic”.

    Maybe you’re just an introvert and your “community” happens to be folks found around the globe. Either way you’re part of a community… which I believe is necessary for happiness.”

  6. Time is a precious commodity, so I think its always prudent to use the “highest and best use” approach when spending it. Traveling around, meeting people, and being an extrovert can open some doors and lead to some real opportunities (both personally and professionally). But there’s also a time to be buckle down and be an introvent.

    The problem is, as entrepreneurs, we never know for certain what the high and best use of our time is. We know what wasting time looks like, but traveling for the sake of traveling, or sitting with someone that wants to pick your brain, can really go either way. It might lead to some insight or new opportunities, or it could be a complete waste.

    I try to make time for a broad array of things. Balance is good. Steve Jobs’ bio was one of my favorite books of the year. Reading how one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time was cut short at the rip old age of 56, gives some perspective. “Writing, programming, and recording things that can benefit anyone anywhere” is cool. Steve Jobs did it. But at the end of the day, on his dying bed, I’d bet he cared little about those accomplishments.

  7. Drew Meyers says:

    I’ve more or less lived as a nomad since early 2010. It’s actually quite a hard skill to remain focused and productive in that lifestyle. Part of your mental capacity that would normally be devoted to work — is instead spent figuring out things such as “where should I eat today?” or “where am i sleeping tomorrow?” — questions which take no thought whatsoever if you are in one spot.

  8. Dave Carlson says:

    “For me, for now, I’m going to stop doing in-person meetings, and turn my attention fully to writing, programming, and recording things that can benefit anyone anywhere.”

    I think that might be more indicative of turning off one spigot and turning another on, than of making a large-scale lifestyle change. Sometimes helpful self-correcting lifestyle choices come disguised as large revelations. That may be the case here.

  9. Stan James says:

    Wow. I lived just slightly like that for a couple years, and have to say that it got old real fast. Still, I’m glad he’s doing the experiment of taking things to the extreme and seeing how it turns out.

    His desire to “benefit anyone anywhere” is loaded with a lot of preconceived values about how you tally up benefit. And I suspect he will soon run afoul of the self-help mantra that one must take care of one’s self in order to take care of others.

  10. Derek Sivers says:

    hi Ben & all!

    I must have missed the mark in that essay, because I define “meetings” as “strangers who want to pick my brain about their project”.

    Because I was previously doing hundreds of those in Singapore, I felt I needed to post a public announcement why I wasn’t going to be doing them anymore. (Saying no to people I previously said yes to, etc.)

    If I was to make a “TL;DR” of that post, it would have just said, “I’ve decided I’m more of a writer than a consultant.”

    Of course I have dozens of dear friends, real friends both local and remote, and I’m also married with a new baby. Lots and lots of social time.

    So no need to predict my death, Vince. I’m doing fine. :-)

  11. Yes, thanks for the response Derek as it does clarify your original blog post. For me, it did successful bring up the question of whether we are all hard-wired to be happier with a “Home” location as part of our identity or not? A question I will continue to think about.

  12. His desire to “benefit anyone anywhere” is loaded with a lot of preconceived values about how you tally up benefit. And I suspect he will soon run afoul of the self-help mantra that one must take care of one’s self in order to take care of others.

  13. Time is a precious commodity, so I think its always prudent to use the “highest and best use” approach when spending it. Traveling around, meeting people, and being an extrovert can open some doors and lead to some real opportunities (both personally and professionally). But there’s also a time to be buckle down and be an introvent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>